What Is A Lap In Swimming? Lap Vs Length

In swimming, a whole host of different terms are thrown around and you are expected to know exactly what they are talking about. What is the difference between a flip turn and a tumble turn?

And, what is the difference between lane rope and lane line? Is there even a difference between the swimming stroke and the swimming style? And can someone please tell us what the difference is between a butterfly kick and a dolphin kick?!

What Is A Lap In Swimming

Don’t even get us started on the mile and the swimmer’s mile… Yeah, the list really does go on. But, there is one element of swimming that can unite all swimmers across the world, and that is the very subject of this piece.

In swimming, a lap is the same as a length. That’s right, here we are going to talk about all things technical on laps and lengths in a swimming pool.

So, as we just said, in swimming a lap is the same as a length. What exactly does this mean? Well, by definition, a lap implies a complete trip around a race track. But, when you contextualize this and relate it to swimming – the lap becomes the swimming pool. The pool becomes the racing track.

So, if you swim from one end of the pool to the other end of the pool then you will have essentially completed the track. This will mean that you have completed one lap or one length, whatever you prefer to call it.

We can break this down in an even more simple way, in case you are still feeling confused. If you decide to swim from one side of the pool to the other then this will count as one lap, and a length is as we said before, the same as a lap.

You will be pleased to know that this is by default pretty accepted by swimmers universally. In fact, you can go and ask any competitive swimmer, they could be an Olympic gold medal winner or they could be a kid who is just learning how to swim. They will both tell you the same thing – a lap is the same thing as a length.

Talking About The Numbers

So, here we can move on to all the number jargon just to make sure that you have made sense of our swimming chat. When we are racing in swimming, this is naturally assuming that the pool is 50 meters long.

This would not be classed as being a half lap sprint, no, 50 meters is one lap. This would then make 100 meters two laps, and then 200 meters would be four laps – you get where we are going with this.

Just to further get into the numbers side of things, let’s talk about the lap counter. The lap counter is a pretty common piece of equipment that is used in swimming competitions and this is typically used for those longer pool swimming events.

An example of this sort of event would be the mile swim. If you have actually seen one of these devices then you will know that it is only capable of displaying odd numbers – and this is because it is always shown to the swimmer who is at the opposite side of the pool.

To put it into perspective, this is the side opposite the starting blocks, so this is where the swimmer is finishing up their odd lap or the length of the race. This also really helps swimmers to just focus on their swimming and to not worry about keeping track of their laps or lengths. 

Why does the lap counter only go up to 69? Well, this is because there are 66 laps or lengths in the 1650 freestyle swim. If you are swimming in a 25 yard pool, there will not be 33 laps in this case. So yeah, this proves that a lap and a length are the same thing. 

Having said that, if you purchase you own lap counter then this will have even and odd numbers. Buy your swimming lap counter here.

Why Does Everyone Get Confused About A Lap And A Length?

Why Does Everyone Get Confused About A Lap And A Length?

You might have got this far and you might be wondering where exactly this confusion comes from, and the answer is most likely comparison. By comparing the measurement of a lap and a length with other sports then you are inevitably going to end up confused.

Most other sports that refer to a lap will use a circular track – think athletics, running, cycling. These do not tend to use a track that runs from a straight line where they have to travel from one end to another. This is where swimming differs because a swimming pool does use the straight line method.

If we break this down even further, in running you complete a lap by circling around the entire track one time – and by doing this you will end up finishing your race where you initially started it.

This very idea of finishing where you started is what has got people so confused with the lap/length situation in swimming – whether you are a new swimmer or whether you do not swim. 

This notion will have undoubtedly tricked you into believing that you need to finish where you have started in order for you to have completed a lap.

If you put this fully into the context of swimming then this means that you will have had to come back to exactly where you have started. This would be coming back to the starting blocks in order to complete a lap which is totally wrong. 

What is pretty clear to us is that swimming is different from all other lap-related sports. When you swim, you swim in a straight line, so your track becomes a straight line. It is not looped and it is not circular like other lap-related sports.

To complete a lap you need to complete the track and this is a different sort of length or lap for a swimmer than it would be for a runner. When it comes to swimming, the pool itself from one side to the other becomes the track.

There is a misconception that a lap is two lengths of a pool, which is not the case. This is something that a lot of casual swimmers will believe. This in turn causes a pretty big spark for a debate that really does not exist.

Or, to put it another way for you: there is no debate. This is wrong. That is a fact. 

Competitive swimmers have set the standards and also the definitions for these kinds of terms. So, it is only right that we just carry these on and avoid any more confusion.

There needs to be a consistency in sporting terminology – if there isn’t then this just defeats the point of having any kind of technical term in any sport. Ever. Do not get us wrong, it is easy to mix up the terms – but that is where we come in.

We are here to just set the record straight and to put it plainly and simply for you. If you are just someone who swims casually, or if you are a triathlete then you might find it especially easy to get confused with terms – but that is because this is not your principle sport.

Unlike professional swimmers who have spent years and years training, and who are totally confident with the water sport and all the terms surrounding it, you might not be at a point where you are totally certain of all the lingo.

But, that is totally fine. You do not have to be an expert in a sport that is not your main field – you can learn as you go along, just like the rest of us. 

To help you work out how many laps or lengths you have swum, then you could invest in a swimming smartwatch to help you see your progress and how far your stamina can take you. Buy your swimming smartwatch here.

Although there still remains confusion about laps and lengths to this day – it is a pretty set definition. A lap and a length is the same thing in swimming because swimming a length of the pool is a lap.

You do not have to finish where you started in order to call something a lap. This is just one of those moments where you just have to accept the terminology here for what it is.

In swimming, a lap and a length are the same thing and this is not something that can be negotiated. It might seem confusing in your mind, but this is just because of the other connotations that you have with other lap or length-related sports.

Unfortunately, you can’t convince yourself that a lap and a length are two different things in swimming. They are very much the same thing – and there is nothing that is going to alter that.

Other than swimmers in the future – they might change their minds on this. But, for now this is the score with laps and lengths in swimming. They both mean the same thing and this is something that you either need to accept, or you might just have to find a new sport…

It is not that big of a deal! Lap? Length? Who cares?! Here in the world of swimming they both mean exactly the same thing – so it is up to you whatever one you want to use.

Matt Williams